Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Have a Ball!

Whoo-hoo! December has finally arrived. Despite temperatures hovering just over the eighty degree mark, I'm ready to bake. Ready to whip up all those tasty treats I only make this time of year. But let's be practical. If I make sugar cookies now, they'll be gone long before Santa's sleigh leaves the North Pole. And I don't want to make them twice. I will make them in a week or two and freeze them to be frosted just before Christmas. Not a temptation. After all, a sugar cookie without icing just isn't the same.

So where do I start?

With things that freeze well and are great to bring out when unexpected guests drop by.  That means candy. And since there's really no baking involved, they're perfect for our less-than-desirable December weather.

The two things at the top of my list, peanut clusters (you can find that recipe here) and peanut butter balls.

Today we're making peanut butter balls. I've seen them called all kinds of names--buckeyes, chestnuts, peanut butter bon-bons.... I prefer chestnuts, because that's what they look like to me. Call them what you like, they're still peanut butter balls. And they're super easy. All you really need is a little bit of time.

You will need:
  • 1 1/2 lb. (that's 5 1/4 cups) sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 lb. peanut butter (smooth, crunchy, whatever you like)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter or margarine (My personal preference for this recipe is margarine. It makes for a softer center.) 

Combine margarine, peanut butter and vanilla in a large bowl. I use an electric hand mixer to get the job done. Add powdered sugar a little bit at a time, mixing well. It should look kind of like pie crust dough.

Now's when you're gonna have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Heck, get the whole family to help. Sing Christmas carols while you roll the mixture into 3/4 - 1 inch balls.
Once they're rolled, you'll want to pop them in the freezer for at least an hour. I usually lay mine out on a parchment lined baking sheet.
For the chocolate coating, you will need:
1 - 12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 oz paraffin (you can also use 1 1/2 tablespoons shortening, but I think the wax, gross as it may sound, gives better results)

Chop the wax

And melt with the chocolate. I use the microwave, thirty second increments, stirring after each one. Take it slow, otherwise you'll burn the chocolate. I speak from careless experience.
Almost there....

Once the chocolate is melted, I set the measuring cup in a bowl  or pan of hot water so it will stay nice and thin. Otherwise it starts to cool and you won't get good results without nuking it again.
Once dipped, you can line the candies on some parchment or waxed paper, or you can use these cute little baking (mini-muffin) cups. They make them look so festive and easy for picking up. The biggest problem is choosing the design. They have so many cute ones out this time of year.

Let the dipping begin.
You can use a dipping tool or a fork, but for me, the easiest is a toothpick. The balls are frozen, so the pick holds nicely and the chocolate sets quickly.
Dip them into the chocolate, stopping just shy of the top, creating that chestnut look.
Here's my set up. Look at all those poor naked.... Ahem. Guess I'd better not finish that sentence.

Once they're all coated and nestled in their little beds, I like to store them in a Tupperware-type container, adding a sheet of parchment in between each layer, then store them in the freezer.
Then they're all ready whenever you need them. Grab as many as you like whenever you need them. You're guests will gobble them up. And you might too.
Tomorrow is my friend Drenda's annual cookie swap. That means the holiday baking is about to be in full swing. I'll let you know next week what I decide to take.
Until then...happy baking.


  1. Mmmm, I love these, but I've never known how to make them. Thanks, Mindy!

    I've never heard them called chestnuts before, though - is that a Texas thing? I've heard buckeyes and peanut butter balls, though. We call them buckeyes. They look just like the real nut.

    Have fun at your cookie exchange!

    1. Jan, as a little girl in Michigan I remember people calling them chestnuts. There was a chestnut tree near the school and us kids always played with them, so it clicked when someone called them chestnuts. Like you said, they looked just like the real thing.

  2. Intriguing and simple -- but paraffin wax? Really? That seems so wrong! Is it to keep the chocolate hardened? What would happen if you just used plain ol' chocolate like when you make a truffle? And I'm assuming powdered sugar is what we call icing sugar up here.

    And just a curious schoolmarm question -- not that I'm a schoolmarm, I'm a librarian but we are nut free in my schools (I know, and they still let me in!!!! What's up with that?) We have so many kids with life threatening allergies that the schools have banned nuts of any kind (except moi). I see all of you cooking with nuts all the time and am wondering if this nut allergy phenomenon is localized and if so that makes me wonder why.

    1. The nut allergy thing isn't localized - we've run into it everywhere we've lived.

      But I don't think it's as widespread as we're led to believe. My opinion is that because the people who are allergic to nuts have such severe problems with them, it's easier for a school or anywhere else with large numbers of people to say "no nuts". Also, a child might not remember to avoid things with nuts, where an adult has learned what to avoid and when to ask.

      But in our families or in small groups? Nuts abound. They're too healthy to leave out.

    2. Kav, I know, the paraffin thing is weird. It helps it harden a little more and adds a sheen. I think if you use just chocolate it would be dull, which is why some folk opt for the shortening. When I used the shortening, though, the chocolate melted in my fingers. Guess it's a trade off.

      As for the nuts, my kids have friends with nut allergies. Some worse than others, though I've not heard of them banning them at the school. On the contrary, at the elementary school, if a kid forgot his lunch or lunch money, they'd make him/her a peanut butter sandwich.

      Luckily, no one in my family is allergic to nuts. Good thing, or we'd all be allergic to each other :-P You'd fit right in, Kav!

    3. Kav, our doctor told us that if we avoided nuts for the first three years, then the kids were less likely to have an allergy, since it's caused by exposure.

      So, no pb for me during pregnancy, and no nuts before three.

      It's worked for us so far, but then we don't really have any allergies.

      We also had friends who avoided nuts because of an allergy, but after the kids grew up, they didn't have the problems they did before.

      Maybe it's a case of starting to early and eating too much?

  3. WHAT??? I have NEVER HEARD of these!! How is that possible??

    And my sister is quite the candy maker. Every Christmas we give her a list of our favorites and we get a personalizd platter.

    One year I tried to make truffles and she told me about the wax. She did saw paraffin.

    I heard PECTIN.

    What a mess.

    Not smooth and glossy. I just kept adding more and more pectin and it was more and more lumpy...

    Finally I called her and she laughed so hard I couldn't understand what she was saying.

    1. That is histerical, Virginia. And I can't believe you've never heard of these. This would be a fantastic project for your crew. They'd have a ball, pun intended!

  4. waaayy too much work for me! I'd dip and eat dip and eat..IF I got that far! and wow I didn't realize those thingies that look like these were chestnuts! how embarrassing! my grandma used to keep a big tray of nuts and these were always in the mix though no one ever ate them! I always thought they were decoration!
    Ruthy I finished your book last night - great except for the 'dog incident' :-( reeeallly getting nervous 'bout you!
    where is everyone?!